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Tue Jun 26, 2012, 07:28 AM

Lysenko Economics (naming the mess Krugman describes)

In a blog post today Paul Krugman (knowingly or not) describes part of the "Sovietization" of the right:

Portes quotes a three-year-old piece from Niall Ferguson I mercifully missed, ridiculing me as the “man from Econ 101” who believed, foolishly, that huge government deficits could fail to raise interest rates in a depressed economy. Indeed, that is what Econ 101 said – and it has been completely right. Basic IS-LM macro also said that under these conditions printing lots of money would not be inflationary, and that cutting government spending sharply would cause the economy to shrink. All of this has come true.

So Econ 101 has done just fine – and perhaps more to the point, it has made successful predictions “out of sample”, that is, about what would happen under conditions very different from normal experience. This is the sort of thing that produces paradigm shifts in the hard sciences: light bends! Einstein is right!

So why the sense that macroeconomics is a mess? I’d say that it’s essentially political. The type of macroeconomics Portes and I do offends conservative notions of how things are supposed to work in a capitalist society, so they reject the theory no matter how well it performs, and throw their support behind other views and other people no matter how badly they get it wrong. As a result, all the public hears are arguments between dueling economists (some of them not knowing much about economics). That’s a big problem – but it’s not a problem with the economics, which has, once again, been spectacularly successful.

In the hard sciences there's a name for that sort of thing: Lysenkoism:
The word is derived from the centralized political control exercised over the fields of genetics and agriculture by the director of the Soviet Lenin All-Union Academy of Agricultural Sciences, Trofim Denisovich Lysenko and his followers, which began in the late 1920s and formally ended in 1964.

Lysenkoism is used colloquially to describe the manipulation or distortion of the scientific process as a way to reach a predetermined conclusion as dictated by an ideological bias, often related to social or political objectives.

Lysenko's ideas didn't pan out in practice, but he had the right message (from the Soviet's ideological viewpoint) from the right source (from a good peasant family, the equivalent of the Clark Kent "wholesome boy from the cornfields of The Heartland" image here in the US) at the right timeso the Soviets adopted it wholesale...and like so many things under the Soviets, dissent was "counterrevolutionary": treason, defilement of all that was good and pure, etc.
In 1948, genetics was officially declared "a bourgeois pseudoscience"; all geneticists were fired from their jobs (some were also arrested), and all genetic research was discontinued. Nikita Khrushchev, who claimed to be an expert in agricultural science, also valued Lysenko as a great scientist, and the taboo on genetics continued (but all geneticists were released or rehabilitated posthumously). The ban was only waived in the mid-1960s.

Thus, Lysenkoism caused serious, long-term harm to Soviet knowledge of biology. It represented a serious failure of the early Soviet leadership to find real solutions to agricultural problems, throwing their support behind a charlatan at the expense of many human lives.

Perhaps we should start encouraging use of the term: Chicago Soviet of Economics

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